Just Take the Photo…Or Don’t

A parent re-thinks the pursuit of perfect photos.

Writer Karl Baresel adheres to his own advice and just takes the photo.

Karl Baresel

Writer Karl Baresel adheres to his own advice and just takes the photo.

Karl Baresel, Teacher Writer

Toddlers just don’t understand the importance of waiting to eat a piece of candy. My son had three different opportunities to go Trick or Treating this year. We made sure that he had a cute costume ‒ a fuzzy green monster ‒ and that it wasn’t too tight and that it didn’t have any little props or hats that would annoy him. He had a cute little pumpkin bucket ready to collect a pile of candy. But, there he was, plopped down in the middle of the sidewalk, chocolate smeared on his fingers, tears rolling down his face, crying for another piece of candy. 

I, too, was crying (on the inside of course) because all I wanted was a beautiful photo of my son, smiling, as he graciously accepts candy from a bowl, with the perfect  October sunset glinting in his eyes, and the contrast of the orange and yellow leaves in the background. Is that too much to ask? 

As parents in the time of cell phones and social media, we often find ourselves in these situations. (Or at least I do.) I want to capture the image because these moments are fleeting. 

We only get one Trick or Treat with our two-year-old. Next year, he will be three and this moment will be over. But even more than that, we often want the perfect photo and to feel the dopamine rush of getting likes and hearts online, especially when the subject matter is so precious to us.

But, as I reflect on my habits, two conflicting thoughts come to mind. 

  1. Just Take the Photo. I often catch myself in the middle of the park or at the breakfast table trying desperately to get my toddler to smile or do something cute for the camera. I want every photo I post to look like my life is together, my house is constantly clean, my toddler is always happy, and the sun is always shining. Yet, two seconds after I take the photo, my son will be screaming and throwing a fit because his spoon dropped on the floor or because I won’t allow him to climb to the top of a lamp post. 

So, I am going to challenge myself to just take the photo! It can look messy. My son doesn’t have to be smiling. Toddlers don’t spend their entire day smiling and looking at cameras. There is a beauty in catching him in the act of spilling his plate or screaming because he wants more chocolate milk. These are the moments in which we experience our lives, no matter how messy or embarrassing they may be. The unplanned photos tell the stories of spilled spaghetti sauce, public meltdowns, bumps and scrapes, and everything else that makes growing up so special. 

  1. Don’t Take the Photo. Sometimes as I am crouching down, angling my phone towards my son, trying to catch him in the perfect position on the swing set, I wonder: “Why can’t I just enjoy this moment?” Social media has trained us to believe that if an experience is not posted online and receiving likes and comments, it didn’t actually happen. But can we truly experience our lives through the lens of a camera phone? What if we just decided to not take the photo this time? Yes, we might miss out on memorializing a cute and precious memory; however, we might gain the experience of actually enjoying that memory. 

My son doesn’t care about likes and retweets. He just wants my attention. He needs to know that I am present and he looks to me for reassurance as he experiences new, exciting, and scary things each day. How easy would it be to just leave the phone in my pocket, take pictures with my mind, and be fully present with him? 

So,the point is: just take the photo . . . or don’t. Do what makes you happy. 

As for me, I am going to try to focus on perfection a little less and on authentic experiences a little more. My memories of Trick or Treat will not be the edited version of autumnal bliss, but rather a toddler experiencing all the intense emotions of getting candy and smearing chocolate all over his fuzzy green costume. Whether I take a photo at that second, or just a snapshot in my head, it is still a priceless moment and an authentic memory.